photo: courtesy of the Numero Group
Wonder if The Final Solution still has those suits?
Contrary to what all the parodies suggest, the blaxploitation films of the 1970s were not just glorifications of the pimp lifestyle. At their best, these films attempted to place African-American politics at the forefront of a society that normally turned a blind eye to the turbulence going on in the inner city. Though many Americans may have overlooked such political commentary at the time, they did gravitate toward the soundtracks, which featured catchy music that captured the essence of what these movies were trying to say.
Artists like Curtis Mayfield, Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown and the late, great Isaac Hayes, to name a few, provided soundtracks that were funky yet commercially viable. Such was the tradition that The Final Solution attempted to follow when, in the mid-1970s, the Chicago band was asked to produce a soundtrack for the film "Brotherman."
The offer was a long time coming for a group that formed in the West Side's Rockwell Gardens Projects. Darrow Kennedy, Ronnie Kennedy, John Banks and Allen Brown, originally known as the Kaldirons, all grew up together there in the 1960s. "It was a nice place to be at the time," says Darrow. "There was all sorts of positive things to do, and all we did was sing."
And sing they did, mastering their vocal abilities with perfect harmonies and tight arrangements, eventually landing spots in numerous clubs as headlining performers. Eventually, the group captured the attention of Jimmy Jones, a producer for the Twinight Label (home to such Chicago icons as Syl Johnson and Pieces of Peace). Jones was thoroughly impressed by the Kaldirons' four-part harmony arrangements and soon got them in studio to cut a 45, "To Love Somebody (That Don't Love You)" b/w "You and Me Baby."
The single was released in 1970 with little promotion and was forgotten as quickly as it was produced. Simply breaking even on the project, the group returned to the club circuit and began to make some changes. Manager Marcellus Burke was first to go; second was the name. The Kaldirons were now The Final Solution. "We cut a record and nobody heard it, and we thought it was really good," explains Darrow. "We loved making music and we just had to move on from that."
But the changes didn't stop there. The members soon reconnected with fellow Crane Tech alum and songwriter Carl Wolfolk, who by this time had already established himself as a masterful songwriter, penning hits for Bobby Rush ("Gotta Have Money"), Little Richard ("Soul Train") and, most notably, Tyrone Davis ("Can I Change My Mind").
"I had my own label at the time [Monawolf]," says Wolfolk. "And then I had given them a record with my number on it, they gave me a call and things got runnin'."
With the help of Wolfolk, The Final Solution became tighter than before, evolving into one of the top acts in Chicago. But in order to keep up with the ever-changing scene, the musicians had to find better equipment. The call was answered by none other than Chuck Colbert Jr. (of the Daylighters and American Breed), who offered his state-of-the-art studio for their recordings.
At the time, Colbert was also handling the musical aspect of an as-yet-unmade blaxploitation film called "Brotherman," and asked the group to do the soundtrack. The band accepted, seeing it as an opportunity to appeal to a wider listening audience. But with no script to build off of, Wolfolk had to envision the world of "Brotherman" himself.
photo: courtesy of the Numero Group
Don't you want to see this movie?
"I, along with Chuck Colbert Jr., wanted to write songs about what people dealt with," says Wolfolk. "Drugs was a major issue at the time and nobody talked about it. I wanted to put it out and let people hear about it." It was with these inspirations in mind that Wolfolk composed the soundtrack's first two songs, "Theme From Brotherman" and "No Place to Run," and soon completed all the songs. The album was recorded, arranged and mixed in one 24-hour session at the tiny DB Studios (676 N. LaSalle).
But despite all of the group's hard work, the movie got lost in bureaucratic muck, and was never completed. The soundtrack was consequently shelved and as the expenses stacked up, The Final Solution had nothing to show. "I was devastated," says Darrow "But the worst part was they locked up the masters and we couldn't get a hold of them for three years."
In that span of time, The Final Solution continued to tour and even found a surge of unexpected success, opening for Prentice Minner (the African-American response to Tony Orlando). But as happened to many young groups with little professional guidance, one of its members fell deep into the drug scene.
"It was the winter Olympics in Canada, and we were supposed to go up there with Prentice and open," says Darrow. "But Allen [Brown] kept coming to the rehearsals with his head down and all bent out of shape with them drugs."
It was an ironic blow that the group never recovered from, and Allen was asked to leave the group. For years The Final Solution tried to find a replacement, but never could, and as everyone's personal lives took over, the group broke up and its music was essentially forgotten.
Enter the Numero Group, a Chicago-based label with a simple mission: to rescue unknown funk, soul and gospel classics from obscurity. Its catalog features releases from bygone labels like Twinight, Prix and Deep City. In January, co-founder Rob Sevier was given a shoebox containing the masters to "Brotherman," and he quickly recognized the music's significance. "My personal feeling about the LP is that it stands with some of the best soundtracks from the era," he says. "It's more important, in a way, as a lost document of the era that gives some unmatched perspective on the culture."
While Darrow says the group found it "shocking" that anyone was interested in the album so long after its creation, one listen shows why Sevier believed the music would still have impact. "Brotherman's" main character (in Wolfolk's mind), a drug dealer-turned-preacher, offered hope in an era riddled with socio-political strife. The album was more than just an attempt to propel a young band into stardom; it was a funky statement promoting redemption, peace and love, messages that will always be in heavy rotation.
The musicians are still at it, too, even if they'll never again reach the heights of their early days. Darrow and Ronnie still produce gospel music in Chicago and are looking to release another album. Wolfolk also lives in the Chicagoland area, and although he's battling with some health ailments, when asked if he still makes music he simply replied, "I have songs that I hear in my head and feel in my heart. I always write, even if it's for myself."